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Todd Howard Exclusive Interview

By APY, 2007-03-19

We recently had a chance to ask Todd Howard, executive producer of Oblivion, a whole load of questions on Shivering Isles, the Playstation 3 version of Oblivion, and some more general question on the Elder Scrolls. Sit back, relax and enjoy the interview, and some new screenshots :)

Shivering Isles questions

Will there be any updates or additions to the scripting language such as there was with Morrowind in the expansions; will we see new scripting functions and additions with Shivering Isles? Also, apart from the new meshes and textures, does it add any capabilities to the game that couldn't be added through the existing construction set? If not, are there plans to release an add-on that expands the game engine rather than simply providing new game data at some point in the future? For example, will the improved distance-rendering that will be in the PS3 version of the game also be applied to the PC and Xbox 360 versions of the engine?

No, a little, no, and yes. There are a few scripting things that have been added for Shivering Isles, but in general the functionality is the same as it was for Oblivion. No big, major changes to the TES CS, although there's a ton of new content and art to play with and I think the mod community will enjoy that. We have no plans for any other expansions or add-ons that would change the engine or systems. We do plan to release an update before Shivering Isles comes out that addresses some issues and adds a few tweaks/improvements, including the distance-rendering one you mention.

We know the Shivering Isles will be leveled to your characters level, does this mean that there will be completely different creatures at lower levels that the ones you see at higher levels? For example: at level one in Cyrodiil, if you enter a goblin cave, you will have "goblins" and "goblin skirmishers" but if you enter at a higher level you will have "goblin warlords" and such. So to get the most out of the expansion, should you play it at different levels and not just finish it by level 10?

Yes, creatures work much the same way they do in Oblivion with some small modifications. If you're creating a game, or an expansion, where you allow anyone to go anywhere they want you have to let the game adjust for that otherwise it's way too hard for some folks and way too easy for the others. Ideally you should pick a character that you enjoy and feel is suited for the challenge Sheogorath is going to lay before you and have at it. Whether you're at level 5 or 25, you're going to have fun. That being said, it is our assumption that someone playing Shivering Isles has played a great deal of Oblivion, so the content takes that into consideration.

Hope you don't encounter this at level 1? :)

There is some curiosity as to how this portal to the Shivering Isles opens, at least for those who have finished the main quest. As it stands, what happened at the end sealed off all portals to Oblivion forever, not only to Mehrune Dagon's realm but all Oblivion is cut off forever from Nirn. Similarly, is the question: why the player, at least a good sided one, would want to help a Daedric prince to begin with? Shouldn't good players be trying to defeat Daedric princes? Are these quests directed at any particular type of character, or do they take a more neutral stance?

The gateway opened in this expansion is different, it's an invitation for you to enter Sheogorath's plane, not a gateway for Sheogorath to come here. You can still summon single Daedra from Oblivion, but you won't see Daedra lords or armies coming through to Tamriel anymore.
Why would you want to help a Daedra lord? You'll have to play it to see if you actually want to help him, but remember, all Daedra are not evil or bad. I would not say Sheogroath is evil, he's mad. Big difference.

Do you have any plans for making expansions for other Oblivion realms such as Azura's or Hircine's? Can we expect/look forward to another expansion planned or is this the only one?

This is the only expansion we have planned for Oblivion.

In a developer video, you said that every person will have their own form of insanity, which will also affect how they speak to you and possibly their reactions to certain topics. Will this mean that NPC's will be much more individual, or will they all still share a few generic topics?

I think you will find the NPCs have more character than those in Oblivion because with fewer characters we were able to spend more time on individualizing each of them. There is very, very little generic dialog in Shivering Isles.

Does the storyline of Shivering Isles connect in anyway to the Daedric Pact made between Sotha Sil and the Daedric Princes within Oblivion, accessed by the Dreaming Cavern, or complete the details of the agreement made surrounded by the suspicion of Sotha Sil's death?

It does not, no.

Are there many rewards for completing the new realm, and I dont just mean weapons/armor. Will there be a new status for your character to achieve, maybe a new place to dwell at the end? Will the player be able to buy new homes in this realm of insanity?

New status to achieve, definitely. To say anything more would give away bits of the story that you'd rather play than have me tell you. New homes to buy, no.

Will you always be able to access the new lands, or are you cut out of it when you finish the quest line, such as you are cut out of Oblivion when you finish the main quest.

The expansion works seamlessly with the original game, so you can go back and forth between Oblivion and Shivering Isles whenever you want.

General Elder Scrolls questions

With regard to the Elder Scrolls in general...

Is there to be a release of the importer/exporter scripts or plug-ins Bethesda uses for creating new meshes for Oblivion? Will we see, in the near future, a release of the tools Bethesda uses to create meshes with Havok data, or does Bethesda have any plans at all to release these tools or ones similar to them for the general modding community?

There are a lot of issues tied up with releasing an exporter and since there are already tools out there that are just as good, and some of these aforementioned issues are still unresolved, it's probably safe to say that we won't be releasing our own tool. Our internal stuff is just as complicated as the tools everyone is currently using, so you're not missing a thing.

The modding community for the Elder Scrolls has always been large and active, with some mods creating new models, extensive quests or landmasses. Has there ever been a community mod released that included something Bethesda intended to release in a DLC or expansion?

No, whatever we have planned for our stuff we've pretty much released, except for some things that sounded good on paper but once we started looking at it and playing it in the game, we decided they weren't good enough.

It is believed that Bethesda truly listens to their fan base, but some doubt this highly. Many wonder if any thought has been given to organizing fan feedback in a strictly controlled feedback survey done online, rather then through presumed and assumed forum posting responses? If thought has not been given to this kind of thing, could you tell us specifically why it has not been thought about, or done - because if there are reasons that we as fans can help iron out, then it may be something you could do. In this respect, bugs can be caught and ideas shared.

Well, I can assure you that we do listen to it. I try to read most of the stuff on the forums. We get letters, phone calls, stuff from the press, you name it. We have no lack of feedback from the gaming populace. So you don't have to worry about that. Now, we usually don't respond, because there is so much of it, and the opinions from people are all over the place. So when we start a new game, a lot of our thinking is how people responded to the last one, and what kind of game we want to create this time. Once we're actually making the game, we do keep our heads down, at that point, it's virtually impossible for anyone outside the development team to have an informed opinion on what we're doing, because they react to very limited info, like screenshots or interviews (like this!). Anyway, the point is, I put a lot more stock into your opinion on the current game you can play and react to, then anything we have cooking in development.

Who came up with the idea of including the TES CS with Morrowind? And how did the CS affect the decisions made when creating Oblivion? Also, talking of the CS, will modders ever see the updated version of this?

That would be me. When we started Morrowind, I was really excited about making a tool like “Stuart Smith's Adventure Construction Set for the Apple 2”. I even used part of the name. As far as an updated one, we should have one out around Shivering Isles' release that supports the new content from it, but nothing more then that.

With regard to the original Oblivion having been re-rated as 'Mature' [a move which many players of the game regarded as unnecessary and unfair]; would this in anyway influence the Development Team to either make future games specifically targeted at 'mature' players or specifically self-censored so that it would get an 'all ages' rating? Or would you prefer to make the game the way the team wants it regardless of the rating it might get?

In a word, no. We never cared what rating we got or were going to get. We said that from the beginning. We just make the game we want to make and then let the ratings agencies around the world rate it, and whatever they decide is what it gets.

Morrowind is still being played, discussed and modded by many in the Elder Scrolls community. Is your team proud / surprised of this games longevity?

Proud, absolutely. Surprised…I don't know. We always thought Morrowind was a really good game, but I think we'd be hard pressed to say we're not surprised by how well it's still selling and how many people are still playing it. We knew it'd still be discussed and modded because this is The Elder Scrolls community we're talking about – people who have been playing our games for a dozen years or more, and very dedicated to the series.

Some fans of the Elder Scrolls series were disappointed with Oblivion. Will Shivering Isles and future expansions, if planned, seek to address the complaints, such as more quests, more story and backstory behind the quests, and perhaps an option to turn on and off the compass functionality?

Those are certainly areas we've tried to focus on for Shivering Isles, and it's much easier to do so when you're focusing on 30 hours and not 300 hours. Whether or not the fans feel those things have been addressed is up to them. Regarding the quest compass, no you can't turn it off. The game is unplayable without it. We tried really hard in the previous games to tell you where things were – we just did a crappy job. I can't imagine the frustration of just trying to find an NPC you need to talk to who is walking all over a huge town without some kind of locator.
So just remember, we give you targets when we want you to know, when finding the person or place is not the gameplay, but the road to the gameplay. We don't want this to be like a pixel hunt adventure game. And we don't give you targets when the gameplay IS finding the person, like in many dark brotherhood quests. Hope that makes sense.

Will future mods for Oblivion feature major sub-oceanic or subaquatic content? Both Morrowind and Oblivion didn't have too much going on under water. There is supposed to be a lost city of Dreughs somewhere under the Iliac Bay...

Perhaps something for a fan mod, but we don't have any such plans.

Oblivion PS3 questions

We've heard rumors that the PS3 version of Oblivion will include a new race. Will I have to buy a PS3 to play as this race or will it come with either the expansion or as a separate download over Xbox live?

No truth to that rumor. All of the systems, races, skills, etc in Oblivion PS3 are the same as PC/360.

Oblivion PS3 version

Will the series continue to move toward consoles, or can PC users look forward to more complex gaming? Oblivion seems to have disappointed many die-hard Elder Scrolls veterans, with talk of Oblivion being 'dumbed down' for the console. Can players be assured that the Elder Scrolls series will remain on the PC platform as well as the consoles?

First, Oblivion would have been the same even if the console versions never existed. We change things for the simple reason of making a game we think is more fun than the last. We also try to support as many platforms as we can, so if a system can handle the game we want to make, we'll do our best to make the game for it. So as long as people are buying our stuff on the PC, we'll continue to support that platform in a big way.

Thanks to Todd for taking the time to answer our questions! Check our our Oblivion PS3 and Shivering Isles screenshots sections for some nice new imagery!

Comments (3):

Posted by tuskanred at 2007-03-21 14:40:54    
hahahaha what the hell.

Posted by The Conqueror Worm at 2007-03-21 12:26:46    
Did anybody else get any sense out of what Tracker just said?

Posted by Tracker at 2007-03-21 06:37:13    
I don't mind compass updates but it's when the gameplay is limited that there are too many oompass instead of worldchanging harcore gameplay. I aI am not talking about fighting and loot but story and discovery.

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